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Fieldnotes: Organizational Disruption As The Collision of Events & Processes, Not Things.

May 27, 2014

Today/tonight was mostly reading–again, on Process Philosophy. But I will say I got some great responses to last night’s blog posting. Happily, people are relating to this work and, in turn, suggesting additional sources to either deepen or, potentially expand its focus.

For example I’m checking out some pieces by Fernando Flores and the pragmatist philosophy Charles Sanders Peirce. I’m interested to see where that may lead. (Thanks very much to the folks who shared those ideas.)

Overall, it is becoming quite clear that if there was empirical research to support and validate a process-oriented approach to leadership and/or organizational development, the impact upon mainstream leadership thinking would be quite significant. (I really want to say “devastating”.)

Here’s the rub: more and more, ordinary people–not just egghead types, like me–are finding that popular models and espoused protocols simply don’t work consistenly enough to elicit confidence. This is one reason, among many, that cynicism is so epidemic in a growing number of organizations.

More often than not in such settings, we see that people are getting by and, when possible, making progress by purposely ignoring prescribed methods and instead navigating disruption through spontaneously fabricating hybrid processes that combine formal methods with on-the-spot improvisations. (Last year I was working on a preliminary theory of this process that I referred to as ‘entanglement’. It was based, at least initially, on work by Uhl-Bien, Marion, and McKelvey (2007))

If a new theory of organizational processes came along that not only validated their experience but also helped them develop it to new heights, I think there would be a strong tendency to quickly adopt such thinking.

So once I begin to gather my own data and get a clearer look at exactly what is going on in such situations, specific organizing/leadership methods will hopefully begin to emerge.

For now I just want to focus on a really important quote from C. Robert Mesle’s great book “Process-Relational Philosophy”. Both passages are from early on in the text:

…the world is not finally made of “things” at all, if a “thing” is something that exists over time without changing. The world is composed of events and processes.

Process philosophy is an effort to think clearly and deeply about the obvious truth that our world and our lives are dynamic, interrelated processes and to challenge the apparently obvious, but fundamentally mistaken, idea that the world (including ourselves) is made of things that exist independently of such relationships and that seem to endure unchanged through all processes of change. (pg. 8)

In the next couple days I’ll be pondering this somewhat disconcerting idea of the world being composed of inter-related events rather than autonomous “things” or “entities”. While this idea may seem radical, especially for organizations, it in fact opens the way for new ways of thinking that can do a much better job of making sense of the disruption that people typically encounter on a daily basis.



Tonight’s Sonic Fuel


Plus, a few incredibly smooth and sublime jazz cuts by the Tord Gustavsen Trio.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2014 7:11 am

    Hi David

    Matthew David Segal has some really great posts on relaitonal – process philosophy, especially Whitehead, on his blog which I have been following for some time now.

    • May 27, 2014 11:49 pm

      Thanks so much for this. I’ve too subscribed to this blog for some time however–unlike you–I’ve not given it nearly the attention it deserves. Thanks to you I’ve been to it several times today and will now be engaging much more closely with Matthew’s work.


  2. chris permalink
    May 27, 2014 12:58 pm

    This old paper by Ron Willis presents an interesting take on your ideas. Willis frames organizational tendencies as bouncing between strange attractors. While it is still a bit too “thing” based, it does set up some thinking that may be useful when seeing organizations based upon complexly competing natural tendencies/processes.

    Scott Atran’s work looking at processes involved in religion formation may also be a productive place to see how he handled that similarly complicated field. His approach ties in exceptionally well to multi-level selection theory, whose strange attractors easily reproduce complex dynamics.

    In an incidental way, Peirce’s triadic semiotics nicely emphasize the role of perception over reality. While his philosophy suggest iterative triangulation should occur to increase perceptual accuracy, throw in a couple of strange attractor natural tendencies and you get a short attention span than precludes too much rationality.

    • May 28, 2014 12:03 am

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks so much for these references. I’m going check out all three.

      To that end, you wouldn’t happen to have a direct link to Willis’s article, would you? I tried the link, but it’s only available through purchase. Unfortunately, I also found that my school library does not have access to it either. It definitelyl looks worth a read.


  3. chris permalink
    June 11, 2014 3:24 pm

    Here is a temporary link to Willi’s great paper. I’ll take it down in a week or two.

    Click to access willis%20-%20complexity%20copy.pdf

  4. June 12, 2014 12:06 pm

    Thanks Chris. I downloaded the paper and will check it out in the next day or two.


  5. chris permalink
    June 19, 2014 11:27 am

    You may also like this longitudinal study by McKelvey (no copies…)

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